Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and Table Mountain, Cape Town attracts more visitors than any other place in Africa, with its natural setting, cosmopolitan culture and Mediterranean climate providing the appeal. Scaling Table Mountain – by foot or cable car – rewards you with panoramic views over the mountains, city and both oceans. You can also explore Cape Town’s turbulent history with a historical tour and a visit to Robben Island. Leisurely afternoons might involve browsing the shops and restaurants at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, or relaxing on Camps Bay’s beach
South Africa specialist Toby
I always remember Cape Town as being a vibrant city with big skies and genuine smiles. It has incredible scenery and a climate that provides a bounty of great food and wine.
Things to see and do in Cape Town
Soak up the history and culture
Cape Town’s multiculturality is reflected in its food, architecture and historical sites. On the Footsteps to Freedom tour you learn about Dutch rule, see where slaves were once traded and explore the apartheid years with a visit to parliament. A boat ride across Table Bay to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent much of his imprisonment, provides further insight; former inmates conduct the tours. If you’re interested in discovering the cultural differences in Cape Town’s food, the Cape Town Eats tour takes you through back streets to taste a variety of delicacies from African soul food to bunny chow (a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry).
Once the ‘table cloth’ cloud has cleared, it’s well worth admiring Cape Town from the summit of Table Mountain. You can reach the top by taking the modern cable car, which completes a 360º rotation on its way, allowing you to appreciate the incredible views from all angles. More adventurously, you can also hike up the mountain with the help of a guide or independently, navigating steep, rocky trails and short vertical faces. Once at the top, you can explore the various pathways and viewpoints and enjoy refreshments in the restaurant. You may also spot the resident rock hyraxes, which resemble large hamsters.
Explore the scenic Cape Peninsula
Whether self-driving or exploring as part of a private tour, you’ll feel immersed in the wild landscape of the Cape Peninsula, despite the region’s popularity with visitors. The Cape is an area of profound natural beauty and huge ecological significance and, after passing through the classy suburbs of Camps Bay and Clifton and through numerous coastal towns and villages, you’ll reach the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. This makes up a significant part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest but most diverse of the world’s seven floral kingdoms. Fynbos – low-lying shrubs and colourful heathers – are the main vegetation, while the habitat supports animals such as antelope, ostriches, baboons and a variety of birdlife.
Whale watching and shark cage diving
The Cape Town coastline is visited by numerous whale and dolphin species, including southern right whales and humpback whales, which migrate each year from the icy waters of Antarctica to have their young. Gansbaai, a two hour drive from Cape Town, is the main launch pad for whale watching cruises, as well as shark cage dives, as high numbers of great white sharks patrol the waters between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. This is an exhilarating way to acquaint yourself with these ominous but graceful creatures in their natural environment, whether you remain on the boat and watch them feeding on the surface or opt to be lowered into the water inside a galvanised steel cage for a closer view.
The rolling countryside and lure of trying South Africa’s finest wines makes taking a one to two hour drive out to the Winelands well worthwhile. On a private full-day tour you can sit back and admire the landscape as you wind through dramatic mountain ranges and expansive vineyards. Stop at Stellenbosch, South Africa’s second oldest town, to admire its canals, Cape Dutch architecture and wine, before heading over the Helshoogte Pass to Franschhoek, renowned for its cuisine and idyllic valley setting, where a patchwork of vineyards meets towering mountains. Here, you can visit a wine estate to taste more of the region’s produce, before moving on to the town of Paarl, set at the foot of a huge granite rock, for a final wine tasting.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Nestled on the eastern slope of Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are home to a large collection of indigenous plants, from fynbos heather to bright strelitzias and proteas (South Africa’s national flower). There’s also a conservatory housing flora that grows in more extreme conditions, from mountain peaks to arid deserts. In addition, the gardens regularly host stone sculpture exhibitions and outdoor concerts. There are shady, secluded spots to sit in, or explore the pathways that meander through the woods and bushes in the upper areas of the gardens, which run unfenced into the slopes of the mountain.
Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson
The delicious food and elegant surroundings of the renowned Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel makes for a truly memorable experience. You’ll tuck in to classic sandwiches, fresh cakes and mouth-watering pastries, as well as a wide selection of teas and coffees. The food is presented in the colonial-style grand sitting room, to the soft accompaniment of a pianist. If the weather is fine, you may opt to sit out in the property’s lush gardens, surrounded by shady trees and the sound of birdsong.
Best time to visit Cape Town
With warm, dry summers and a temperate winter climate, Cape Town makes an excellent year-round destination. Summer months (December to March) average a maximum temperature of 26°C and minimum of 16°C, while winter months (June to August) average a maximum of 18°C and minimum of 8.5°C. The hot Berg (‘mountain’) wind arrives in February or March, while in late spring there may be a strong southeasterly wind.
Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit
- Between June and November is the best time for whale watching off the coast, with southern right whales and humpback whales migrating from Antarctica to calve and rear their young.
- Springtime in the Cape sees the dry, dusty landscape transformed by a carpet of vibrant wildflowers, which spreads across South Africa’s west coast.
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